Brussels’ firefighters service has an internal discrimination problem, anti-racism centre Unia said on Friday, citing a collection of interviews and testimonies in a report.
Unia on Friday warned that several incidents among members of the department, which is made up of first-respondents to fire as well as medical emergencies, were “tainted with racism.”
The equality and anti-discrimination centre said that testimonies gathered from servicemen and staff over the past year showed that there was a “problem” and that “discrimination was clearly present.”
The organisation also criticised the department’s leadership for what it said was a poor response to the incidents service personnel reported, according to a letter sent to Le Soir.
The testimonies collected by the agency shines a light on a string of “blatant discriminations” taking place in the earliest training stages, the daily tasks and all through opportunities for promotion.
They also revealed double standards in the way the department deals with disciplinary measures and terminations, according to a source cited in the paper.
News of the report comes amid controversy and concern over attacks targeting on-service firefighters, with reports that fire engines were being pelted with projectiles and Molotov cocktails after being called for assistance.
Unia said that it could not yet reveal the content of the testimonies collected because it was still in talks with the fire department’s leadership, but said it also based its report on news reports of racist, xenophobic or discriminatory incidents that took place over recent years.
Last October, police launched an investigation after the locker of a recruit in training was broken into, with the perpetrators writing racist and islamophobic slurs on his helmet and slapping slices of ham around the insides. Pork and any of its derivatives are strictly forbidden by Islam dietary laws.
At the time, a spokesperson for the fire department said that incidents like these were “rare” but serious and that the perpetrators had “gone too far.”
This summer, an outspoken member of the fire department and a spokesperson for a firefighters union, Eric Labourdette, was hit by a complaint over his repeated use of a derogatory slur used in French to denigrate Black people.
Following the incident, the SLPF/VSOA union said they had asked Labourdette to “stop writing these kinds of amalgams.”
The Brussels Times